How Do Courts Calculate Child Support?
- How do the Guidelines work?
- What are “extraordinary” medical and educational expenses?
- I was never married to the child’s father. Do the Child Support Guidelines apply to us?
- Does the court have to follow the Child Support Guidelines?
- What if one of the parents does not work?
How do the Guidelines work?
Basically, the Guidelines try to keep the child in the same financial situation the child would have been in if the parents had stayed together. The Guidelines look at both parents’ gross incomes and the number of children to determine the child support amount.
The Guidelines also consider other expenses such as work-related child-care expenses, (child care costs due to working or looking for a job), extraordinary medical and educational expenses, and the children’s health insurance costs.
You can use our interactive Child Support Calculator to help you estimate your child support. Of course, this will give you an estimate only. The court will have the final word on the amount of child support that is ordered.
What are “extraordinary” medical and educational expenses?
Extraordinary educational expenses can include the costs of sending the child to private or special schools. The court can consider whether only one parent wants the child to go to the school or if both parents agree on the educational expense. The court can also consider whether the expense is reasonable and necessary.
Extraordinary medical expenses means uninsured medical expenses that cost more than one hundred dollars ($100) per child per year. The court will usually order the parents to divide any uninsured expenses, in proportion to their incomes. However, if a child has long-term medical problems, a court might increase the weekly child support order to include this extraordinary medical expense.
Does the court have to follow the Child Support Guidelines?
Yes, the court generally must follow the Guidelines. However, if the court finds that it would be “unjust or inappropriate” to follow the Guidelines, the court can order a different amount of child support. The court will have to state in writing or on the record why the court did not follow the Guidelines.
Here are 2 examples of when a court might order a different amount of child support:
- If the non-custodial parent routinely buys school clothes and pays for the children’s extra activities.
- If the non-custodial parent has to pay a lot of expenses for visitation (such as travel fees or long-distance phone bills).
What if one of the parents does not work?
If the court believes the parent could be working, but chooses not to, the court can “impute” income to that parent. This means that for purposes of the child support worksheet, the court will pretend the parent is working and will put in income for that parent on the worksheet.
The court will usually impute at least minimum wage full time employment. (The court will do this even if that parent is receiving TANF). However, if a parent has worked in the past and made more money than that, the court can impute a higher amount of income.
If a parent’s only income is SSI (Supplemental Security Income), the court cannot impute income to that parent. So if a parent’s only income is SSI, that parent cannot be made to pay child support.
Reviewed August 2009